Sensory or Behaviour problem

Is it a Sensory or Behaviour problem?

Is it a Sensory or Behaviour problem?

How will you know if it is a sensory or behaviour problem? This is a question we ask ourselves many times.

Is your child undergoing a behavioural tantrum or a sensory overload? A child throws a tantrum for various reasons. The gain can be an object, attention, or even avoidance of a situation. Have you observed that your child throws a tantrum, and you wondered what was bothering them?

Note it down:

It becomes essential to identify if this child is overwhelmed or seeking a gain. To understand this better, it helps by noting down the behaviours every time the child is upset.

One of my psychologist friends suggested this once: Noting them in the format of ’A-B-C’, i.e., antecedent, behaviour and consequence.

A: The antecedents are the triggering factors that lead to a meltdown. These could be being denied screen time, loud sounds, hunger, etc.

B: Note the behaviour. What is the child conveying through this tantrum? What is the behaviour like during a meltdown?

C: What happened after the child had this meltdown? Was he given the chocolate/ was he held close? Did gentle rocking help? Did the child calm down after being removed from a situation?

Identification of a meltdown as sensory or behavioural problem:

How would you know if it is purely a Sensory or Behaviour problem? The main answer is it can be both! Every want or action has a sensory base to it. The feeling is enjoyed, hence the demand is repeated. Everything we do is based on sensory input. Therefore, an overwhelmed child is most likely to demand removal from over stimulatory space. Also, an agitated child will calm down when given something he wants.

It is important to understand what the meltdown is about:

 The gain from a meltdown can vary as per the reason. Is the child not calming down? Is that even after you gave them something you thought, they wanted? Did talking softly help a little better?

What is the reason for this behaviour?

  • If the want is met, and a child usually calms down after receiving it, it is most likely behavioural.
  • Addressing the ‘why’ of the tantrum will help with behaviour handling. If the child is sleepy, helping take a nap would address the meltdown. Similarly, behaviours related to Hunger, attention, and avoidance of something are addressed appropriately.
  • Sensory Overloads can lead to dysregulation in children leading to meltdowns. Unexpected touches like shoulder taps, sudden clapping in class, and physical exertion can all contribute to meltdowns in children with sensory processing difficulties.
What can you do if it is a sensory problem?
  1. Good regulation helps a child be calm, regulated, and interactive. Therefore, therapy including sensory processing techniques along with delayed gratification, and emotional regulation helps with behaviours mostly secondary to sensory processing disorders.
  2. Children with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and learning disabilities are prone to tantrums because of sensory overload, low frustration tolerance and affected communication skills.
  3. Sensory Integration based approach will help with sensory processing difficulties. Hyperresponsivity or Hypo responsivity to a stimulus is addressed with this therapy. These techniques help a child stay calm, alert, and focused.
  4. Thus, Helping the child with sensory deficits and appropriate behaviour techniques helps better.

Read here about sensory processing disorders.

What can you do when it is a behavioural problem?

Professional guidance can help address behaviours. They include Speech and Communication experts, Psychologists, or Applied Behaviour Analysis therapists.    

What not to do when a child has a meltdown:

Do note, regardless if it is a sensory or a behavioural problem,

  1. The behaviour mustn’t be punished. As behaviours are an extension of communication by children, understanding the cause is important.
  2. Also, not acknowledging the behaviour may not be the best move always.
  3. Identifying signs of sensory overload will help manage a meltdown by using a sensory diet or calming activities.

**Understand this. The way a child processes the sensory inputs will directly impact the way a child behaves.

Read about managing temper tantrums here.

How can we help?

We are a team of trained professionals at 1sp. We can help in areas of not only behaviour issues, counselling, behaviour modifications, and communications, but also sensory processing, sensory regulations, and sensory diets.

Sharing a few Sensory Play Ideas here.

Write to us at or get in touch with us at 1specialplace

Amruta Tamboli
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